A lawyer finds out that a young couple convicted of murder was in fact framed for the crime and goes to the prison with the hope of freeing them and learns the events that happened to the two from a fellow prisoner who helped them escape.
In an undefined country, the Governor Mendonza summons the lawyer Lindsay to his death bed to disclose that the lovers Raymond Franval and Beatriz Coblan are innocents. Mendonza tells that he had an unrequited love for Beatriz while his lover Emilia Franval was jealous of Beatriz. Emilia had had a love affair with her godson Raymond, who ended their relationship to stay with Beatriz. Mendonza plots with Emilia to kill his wealthy sister-in-law Margarita Santiago to frame Raymond and Emília. The lovers are convicted of murder and sentenced to a life imprisonment in separate wings of the Devil's Island prison. Lindsay decides to visit his clients and when he arrives, he meets the inmate Rosa that tells the fate of the two lovers. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Vaguely interesting, but unimaginative Franco prison film
As was allegedly quite common for Franco's films of this particular era, Devil's Island Lovers / aka The Lovers of Devil's Island / aka Female Quarters (1974) exists in many different versions, some with explicit sex, others with violence, others with very little of the two. The version that I saw was the longer cut that maintains the use of the flashback structure and tones down many of the more obvious Franco exploitation flourishes to present a mostly straight story, which despite never really overcoming it's obvious B-movie/exploitation roots, at least presents an intelligent story well told. Still, depending on the version you see, Devil's Island Lovers could be viewed as either a B-grade treatise on political corruption, dictatorship and the horrors of the death penalty, or as a lurid slice of sexploitation schlock. You have been warned!
For me, this isn't a particularly great film; Franco has a reputation for his incredibly low budget productions in which films seem to have been shot in no more than a single take with inexperienced actors and obvious post-production dubbing. Sometimes it works in favour of the subject matter and other times it doesn't. However, having said that, the film here certainly wasn't disinteresting or badly performed, with the atmosphere of the film drawing us in with its lurid characterisations and exploitation clichés, and the general air that anything could happen within the limitless confines of this Gothic, medieval-like prison. On some levels the film and its style reminded me of the early work of Jack Hill, in particular films like Bamboo Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972), with the women in prison subplot and sensational depictions of state corruption and prison guards as grotesque caricatures with a regime of brutal degradation. However, Franco's film lacks the giddy style, playful sleaze and tongue-in-cheek absurdity of Hill's early work, including the films aforementioned, which still stand out as some of the greatest exploitation/low budget film-making ever seen.
Given the lack of sleaze in the version that I saw, it is its unknown who this film will really appeal to. I suppose people like myself; hardcore cineastes who genuinely love film and will watch anything no matter how poor a reputation it might have. Certainly, the low budget, rough around the edges style obviously germane to exploitation sub-genre will turn off many viewers unfamiliar with the particular style, while the slight plot and only subtle allusions to political corruption may prove disengaging to those looking for Franco's usual low-rent decadence. Regardless, Devil's Island Lovers is still an interesting film despite the required exploitation factor or the occasional stabs of outré imagination and filth that Franco would occasionally revel in. This is a slight film, though I think it has its charms and does manage to tell a story with obvious socio-political references and shades of hidden depth.
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